An Overview of Olfactory Reference Syndrome

Olfactory Reference Syndrome (ORS) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by frequent preoccupation with one’s own odor. It is perhaps one of the most exploited forms of mental disorder as evidenced by the skin and body care industry. Manufacturers cash in on the consumers’ propensity to maintain overall body and oral hygiene. While a majority of the population observe proper hygiene on a regular basis, there are some – roughly about 2 percent of the population – who overindulge in skin and body care regimens that at some point may hamper their normal daily routines.

ORS and its Effect on the Individual
An individual with ORS has a tendency to be overly preoccupied with some specific part of his or her body: underarms, genital area, feet or mouth. Because individuals with ORS often go to extremes to satisfy their obsession, they are more likely to be observed overdoing some hygiene regimens. These include activities such as repetitive bathing, brushing their teeth too frequently, excessive application of perfumes, and overuse of mouthwash.

In extreme cases, some individuals will visit a surgeon and request to have their tonsils removed. They believe that the procedure will eliminate the cause of foul-smelling breath. However, such beliefs have been proven to be unbounded by logic and medical research, as there are many causes of having bad breath.

Often, individuals with ORS fall into a trap of complete isolation as they gradually distance themselves from their friends and public places. Although most of their beliefs are unfounded, their behavior shows that they believe otherwise. They may resort to covering their mouths while talking close to someone. In the “British Journal of Psychiatry”, Malasi, El-Hiru, and Mirza reported that the disorder might lead affected individuals to a life of total social isolation when left untreated.

The exact number of people affected with this psychiatric disorder is unknown, although estimates indicate between 0.5% and 2% of the population.

Importance of ORS Treatment
ORS can be a debilitating disorder that can severely compromise one’s social life. More than 40% of individuals with ORS begin to dwell on thoughts of committing suicide, as reported in the Journal of Family Practice. Five percent of those ORS individuals actually act out their suicidal tendencies.

Diagnosing ORS among individuals should be carried out accurately because a number of psychiatric disorders have almost identical symptoms. Thus, the correct diagnosis will lead the psychiatrist to establish a proper course of action to treat ORS. At times, when the disorder manifests simultaneously with secondary symptoms such as depression, treatment becomes more complicated and challenging.

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